Contempt Isn’t A Winning Strategy
Yesterday, I was at a meeting at UW-Madison. While not mentioning President Trump, the administrator who was speaking mentioned in passing that the country has changed in the last year or so and that we are now living in a context that is politically divisive. A few things caught my attention.
First was the speakers casually assumption that everyone in the room agreed with his assessment that we are now living in politically divided times. Second, that the cause of our divisions is the election of Donald Trump as POTUS.
While I would agree with the speaker that we live in politically fractious times and that Trump’s election as POTUS figures in this, I don’t think that Trump election is the cause. Yes, President Trump is a divisive figure. So, however, is President Obama.
Trump divides by his manner. He can be impulsive, rude and vulgar. Obama is much more polished but he pursued policies that were antithetical not only the moral values of many Americans but were also an assault on religious liberty. His rhetoric on a range of social and economic issues matters could also be divisive.
Deep, and sometimes bitter, political divisions plagued us during the Bush and Clinton administrations as well. Neither side has a lock on either civic virtue or civic vice.To suggest otherwise is wrong morally and factually.
In any case, the speaker seemed to me to be secure in his assumption that everyone in the room shared his evaluation of our current political situation and its causes. While state employees have a right to their political views, I found it disheartening and worrisome that a member of the UW administration presumed that I agreed with him.
What brought this all to mind, is a video making the rounds. In it, Hillary Clinton explains to an audience in India why she lost the 2016 Presidential election.
The take away for Christians and others of good will is this. We need to be careful that we don’t presume people agree with us. And, if they disagree with us, we need to be careful that we don’t impute malicious motives for their disagreement.
Judge for yourself why Ms. Clinton thinks she lost. Based on the video, however, it appears to me that she thinks she lost because, as one (liberal) commentator said, voters
…sensed her contempt and lack of concern for their predicament. It wasn’t hard. She had contempt during the campaign even when she was under pressure to act like she cared, and it’s no surprise that she has it when she’s free of that pressure. To express her contempt and lack of empathy now is simply to revel in the freedom of not having to appeal to the people for their votes.
Contempt for those who disagree with us is never a winning strategy.
If you look at the map of the United States, there is all that red in the middle where Trump won. I won in the coasts, I win, you know, Illinois, Minnesota, places like that. But what the map doesn’t show you is that I won the places that represent two thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, “make America great again,” was looking backwards. You know you didn’t like black people getting rights, you don’t like women getting jobs, you don’t want to see that Indian American succeeding more than you are. Whatever your problem is, I’m going to solve it.
Source: The Weekly Standard
Most of Life is Not Under My Control
Political decisions are rarely straightforward or simple. This seems especially to be the case in what National Review‘s Victor Davis Hanson calls our “Manichean” political age. He makes a point about Trump voters that I think has a broader importance for our political life. He writes:
…there are understandably legitimate differences in conservative attitudes toward Trump, the first U.S president without prior political or military experience and service. But should such acrimony extend to the Trump voter?
In attributing moral or ethical laxity to Trump voters, Never Trumpers sidestep the argument that in a Manichean world, not voting for Trump was a de facto vote for the alternative — a likely 16-year Obama-Clinton continuum. Is condoning Trump’s antics by default the moral equivalent of its practical antithesis: ensuring a Supreme Court, economy, and foreign policy that would, in conservatives’ views, radically injure millions of Americans for a generation?
If it were really unethical or foolhardy to vote for Trump, is it by extension far more unethical toserve Trump? In other words, are H. R. McMaster, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Betsy DeVos, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pompeo far more morally suspect for empowering such a president, in a fashion that outweighs their principled notions of serving the country?
Is it still sustainable to suggest that Trump is not a conservative but a dangerous liberal or demagogic wolf in conservative sheep’s clothing? The doctrinaire conservative Heritage Foundation now claims that two-thirds of its proverbial 334 conservative agenda items have been already met by Trump — and at a pace far faster than that achieved even by former president Reagan.
Casting a vote means accepting trade-offs. Often this means tolerating policies or character traits that we find misguided, offensive or even evil.
In the face of this, I can decide not to vote. But not voting doesn’t exempt me from moral responsibility for the outcome of an election. Deciding to not decide is, after all, to still make a decision as youth ministers everywhere remind their young charges.
What I need to always keep in mind is that life is made up of many moving pieces, some of which are on fire, and most of which are not under my control.
It is this last point–that most of life isn’t under my control–that makes Christian witness in the Public Square complicated, often frustrating, controversial and deficient, but always interesting and challenging.
Marriage, Market, and Politics in Middlemarch
Note that the market here is not portrayed as destroying other values, like love and fidelity, as is often the case in both Marxist and conservative critiques, but as putting them on a realistic and stable foundation. Moreover, a successful life does not consist of throwing off authority or vindicating the authentic self, but in creating enduring associations with others. Middlemarch is thus a riposte to those who think that the essence of liberalism must loosen rather than strengthen the bonds of community and family.
And it is also clear that Eliot contrasts politics unfavorably with the market and a market infused family life. The story takes place in the shadow of the struggles to enact the Reform Bill — probably the most important democratizing act in British history, greatly expanding the franchise and making it more effective by eliminating or at least tempering rotten boroughs. But the people acting together without the bonds of market or familial associations are not portrayed favorably. When they condemn Dr. Lydgate, they are mostly motivated by malice and envy. Political actors are generally represented as quite self-interested. At the end of the book, some characters speculate how they can use the initial failure of the Reform Bill to get into the House of Lords. If the danger of marriage is that it will be built on illusions, however benevolent, the danger of politics is that it may rest on sheer malevolence.
Of course, Middlemarch is not a political tract. But Eliot makes important points about the relation of private life, public life, and the spirit of market liberalism that are as powerful today as they were when she wrote them almost 150 years ago.
Source: Law & Liberty
A Sensible Response
Dick’s Sporting Good made what I think is a very sensible response to the recent shooting at Parkland High School. As they say in their letter:
- We will no longer sell assault-style rifles, also referred to as modern sporting rifles. We had already removed them from all DICK’S stores after the Sandy Hook massacre, but we will now remove them from sale at all 35 Field & Stream stores.
- We will no longer sell firearms to anyone under 21 years of age.
- We will no longer sell high capacity magazines.
- We never have and never will sell bump stocks that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.
They also call on legislators “to enact common sense gun reform and pass the following regulations:
- Ban assault-style firearms
- Raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21
- Ban high capacity magazines and bump stocks
- Require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law
- Ensure a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms
- Close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks.”
While some might disagree about the prudence of the proposed regulations (primarily, will they accomplish what they are enacted to do), we can’t fault Dick’s Sporting Goods for their willingness to shape corporate policy in line with their moral vision for the common good. In refusing to sell certain kinds of firearms, they are willing to accept the financial costs for doing what they see as the morally right thing to do.
You can read the whole letter here.
Coercion, Paternalism, and The Common Good
In his recent review of The Once and Future Liberal for The Gospel Coalition, [author and former Obama White House staffer, Michael] Wear (sort of) critiques identity politics, lamenting the fact that “identity politics empowers people to speak for others without their consent.” Yet in the same article he suggests, “We ought to see our fates as inextricably linked with the fate of our neighbors – and act politically on their behalf.”
This gets to the heart of the problem with the Love Your Neighbor strategy. Our allegedly loving act of selflessly voting on behalf of our neighbors is speaking for our neighbors without their consent. It naively assumes that there is an identifiable, agreed-upon common good in our current political environment. This mindset is also highly patronizing towards others by assuming that we have a better understanding of what is best for our neighbors than they do.
We simply do not agree upon what the common good is in America. Acting politically on our neighbors’ behalf is ultimately one tribe’s (or coalition of tribe’s) vision of the common good versus another’s, carried out by means of the coercive power of the State. Whoever can garner 50.1% of the vote gets to coerce the other 49.9% into abiding by the other tribe’s vision of the common good whether the 49.9% of our neighbors believe it to actually be “good” or not. Even if our neighbor abhors the “good” we have forced upon them through our loving act of voting for their good, they’ll just have to live with it and accept it as the blessing from God we believe it to be.
Practically speaking, what does it even look like to vote for the good of the community motivated by love rather than individualistic self-interest anyway? Would the loving thing be to take a poll and vote with the majority of our community even if it were to compromise our sincerely held beliefs? Or do we go against the majority of the community because we know what they desire will actually harm them? The “community” calls that hate.
A (Usually) Virtuous People
In today’s WSJ, the Editorial Board observes that Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore’s defeat yesterday in his campaign for a seat in the US Senate that is
… a lesson to the Republican Party, and President Trump, that many GOP voters are still at heart character voters. They will only accept so much misbehavior in a politician, no matter the policy stakes. Mr. Trump opposed Mr. Moore in the primary but came around to support him even after the accusations emerged about Mr. Moore’s pursuit of teenage girls while he was in his 30s. The GOP voters who ignored Mr. Trump and rejected Mr. Moore also want a President who acts presidential.
While Americans often fail to live up to our ideals, we are (for the most part) a people who strive to be virtuous.
As it does in the individual, our national commitment to virtue waxes and wanes. Both parties have in recent years put forward candidates with serious moral shortcomings.
These moral deficiencies are reflected not only in policies that are contrary to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” As we saw in the recent US Presidential campaign, our candidates also can be seriously morally flawed. More than one person told me that when they voted in the 2016 election they voted not for the “best candidate” but for the “lesser of two evils.”
Yes, democracy isn’t a perfect form of government but in this life, what form of government is? St Augustine is instructive here:
Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed on. If, by the admittance of abandoned men, this evil increases to such a degree that it holds places, fixes abodes, takes possession of cities, and subdues peoples, it assumes the more plainly the name of a kingdom, because the reality is now manifestly conferred on it, not by the removal of covetousness, but by the addition of impunity. Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, “What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it with a great fleet art styled emperor” (City of God, Book IV.4).
Americans have always understood that–absent virtue in ourselves and in our politicians–democracy will become tyrannical.
With this in mind, I see Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama as a hopeful sign that Americans are coming to realize that a just government requires that we elect virtuous men and women to office. It isn’t enough that we choose those who pass laws that conform to the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” Much less should we simply pick leaders who agree with us.
We must elect men and women of good–and ideally, sterling–moral character. Whether guilty or not of things of which he stands accused, Moore’s behavior over the years was such that these allegations were enough to turn the election.
Make no mistake. The allegations were damaging to his campaign not because the women were credible (though I think they were). No, the allegations were credible and so harmful because, in the minds of many voters, Moore’s character was already in question.
As I said above, though far from perfect. Americans are usually a virtuous people. God willing, we have reached (or at least reaching) a tipping point. Hopefully, we have reached the point where Americans will no longer feel compelled to vote for the “lesser of two evils.”
Yes, for a time this might mean that truly evil people are elected and that truly harmful laws are passed. God forbid this happen. But if it does, it is because the two major parties will continue to nominate candidates with serious personal moral shortcomings.
No, when we enter a voting booth we aren’t choosing a pastor. To argue based on this that character doesn’t matter or that policy matters more, is simply wrongheaded. We must elect morally good men and women to hold political office. If we don’t, then even good and just laws will prove to be insufficient. When we entrust good laws to the care of bad leaders show we are worse than slaves; we are fools.
Evangelizing the “Aspirational Class”
Benjamin Schwarz in his review of The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett writes that the author describes
…the process of “assortative mating” and elite bunching that Murray previously elucidated, Currid-Halkett explains that “smart people want to be around other smart people…over time that results in highly stratified hyper-educated affluent places.”
The practical social result of this Schwarx says is a growing “cultural divide” in which cities like “London, central Paris, the westside of Los Angeles, the northside of Chicago, Manhattan, Seattle, Northwest D.C., Toronto, and San Francisco” are becoming “increasingly … culturally homogenous echo-chambers” that “resemble each other more than they do their outlying districts and suburbs.”
Given the socially progressive, and frankly anti-free market sentiment (and it is rarely anything more than sentimental), these cities are dependent economically on the “engines of global capitalism.” The wealth generated by the market (and the business and entrepreneurs who the cultural elites often disparage) enable “these cities and their inhabitants” to pull “away with growing momentum from their native countries and cultures.”
As a result, these cities (which include Madison, WI where I live) are
Untethered from their localities, [and] are being transformed into an archipelago of analogous islands. Currid-Halkett is surely right that this process represents a divide between (to somewhat simplify matters) the cosmopolitans and the provincials, but it is hardly an equal struggle. The wealth, dynamism, and consequent self-belief are all on one side; the unorganized, self-defeating resentment is all on the other. The cosmopolitan elite will shape the world as that elite wishes, even if the results ultimately prove disastrous to all.
Historically, the Church–East and West–has often drawn her leadership from the cultural elite. Whether raised to the episcopate, set aside as presbyters, or asked to open their homes for the celebration of the sacraments, the wealthy and socially powerful members of the Church didn’t serve an abstract “common good.” Rather they respond to Christ and the Church’s invitation to offer tangible and immediate service to the whole Church but especially to the poor.
For the Christian tradition, those in the social elite have a moral obligation to serve others. And again, to do so concretely and personally. (In the interest of full-disclosure, I have PhD and my wife a JD, so, yeah, I’m look at us too.)
Unfortunately, Schwarz point out, the “aspiration class” (Currid-Halkett’s term for the social elite) share a “social and political outlook based on self-fulfillment” that “easily lapses into self-indulgence.” Again, I know this from my own experience. The temptation to self-satisfacation is a real one for me.
One of the reasons I am attracted to college campus ministry, is because the Orthodox Church has largely left the university (and especially the secular university) to its own devices. Doing so, however, means that our brightest young people are being formed morally according to the ideals of the aspirational class and not the Gospel.
Thank God for those Orthodox Christians who are well-educated, wealthy and socially powerful! It’s from this group in the Church that God will raise up for our age the new St John Chrysostom, St Basil the Great, St Augustine, St Ambrose, St Helene, St Nina, St Macrina, St Maria of Paris and other leaders (men and women) the Church needs.
But, if we don’t evangelize those Orthodox Christians in the “aspiration class” (to say those who haven’t heard the Gospel), what then? How can I stand before Christ at the Last Judgment and say I failed to answer affirmatively when He called me to help raise up the new fathers and mothers for this age?
Millions of working age American men don’t have a job and aren’t looking for one. They’ve simply vanished from the U.S. labor force. What are they doing? Caring for kids? Going to school?
The answers will surprise you. Tyler Cowen explores this phenomenon and what it could mean for the American economy in episode 4 of the new series that accompanies his latest book, The Complacent Class.
The New Era of Segregation
Why is this happening? For answers, check out Economist Tyler Cowen in his new video titled “The New Era of Segregation,” argues that,
In our algorithm-driven world, digital servants cater to our individual preferences like never before – finding us tailored restaurants, TV shows, even our next spouse. On the individual level, this is all very good. We’re finding better matches and our daily lives are improving.
But what happens at the macro level? The picture becomes less rosy – increased segregation, exploding rents, and a less dynamic economy.
While economic concerns are important–after all, how can the Church serve the poor (much less help lift them out of poverty!) with the economic resources to do so?
But Cowen’s video raises another, pastoral question.
In an increasingly “curated” culture, what happens to the Church? What happens to the parish as a local, eucharistic community?
With Cowen, I think the technological advances of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are great. No question about this!
In a fallen world, no good thing is simply good. Sin always mixes in.
As Christians, as people of good will, and as citizens we can’t lose sight of either the blessings or risk inherent in technology. As Aristotle taught us, virtue is about finding the middle way between extremes. This is as true with our use of technology as it is in our personal lives.
Do take a moment to watch Cowen’s video.
Orthodoxy in the Marketplace: A Team Sport
A Team Sport
The psychological research on moral formation provides an interesting insight on this data. Jonathan Haidt argues that we develop our moral framework through, among other things, shared physical activity. Or, as he says, religion is a “team sport.” This means that
trying to understand the persistence and passion of religion by studying beliefs about God is like trying to understand the persistence and passion of college football by studying the movements of the ball. You’ve got to broaden the inquiry. You’ve got to look at the ways that religious beliefs work with religious practices to create a religious community.
While theology matters, it isn’t the whole of religious faith. “Believing, doing, and belonging are three complementary yet distinct aspects” of what it means to be a religious believer. It is “beliefs and practices” together that “create a community.”  This is why believers, of any tradition, who don’t participate regularly in their tradition’s worship, tend to take their moral cues not from their own religious tradition but from some other source. In America, that source is typically the surrounding secular culture.
If Haidt is correct then given the relatively low participation rate of Orthodox Christians in weekly worship we should expect to see a lack of theological orthodoxy that corresponds with a relatively low rate of moral orthopraxis. And, in fact, we do.
While there are no doubt many factors that contribute to these numbers, when asked about their understanding of God, Orthodox Christians prove themselves to be rather less than orthodox (much less, Orthodox). 32% think of God as an “impersonal force.” Another 6% say they believe in a god that may, or may not, be personal; an equal number don’t know what they believe about God. Atheists make up 4% of those who still call themselves Orthodox. Finally, 1% have some “other” notion of God than those offered in the PEW study.
In other words, about half the Orthodox Christians in America, don’t believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Without prejudice to divine grace, this means that about half of all Orthodox Christians are predisposed to NOT experience God’s love for them. The god in which they believe is, at best, an impersonal force. And when asked if they are certain that personal relationship with God is even possible only 47% of American Orthodox Christians said yes—which isn’t to say they have a personal, much less loving, relationship with the Holy Trinity, only that they were certain such a relationship is possible.
Demographically, morally and spiritually, Orthodox Christians in America have taken a beating. That other Christian and non-Christian traditions are in similar situations is, at best, cold comfort. The condition of Orthodoxy in America raises a practical question. What is the Church to do? How are we to respond to the corrosive effects of the religious free market? And, since we’re asking hard questions, can we really lay the blame on the marketplace of ideas or might it be as well that Orthodox Christians have failed to use the freedoms America has afforded the Church?
As a first step in our working together to answer these question, let’s look at two different strategies for facing the challenge inherent in the free market of ideas: Withdrawal and Competition.
 Haidt, Jonathan, Haidt. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (p. 290). New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, p. 209.
 Pew Religious Landscape Survey: Practices and Social Attitude.